Movie Guru: Cast of musicians, comedians deliver in ‘Ugly Dolls’
Rated: PG for thematic elements and brief action
Screenplay by: Erica Rivinoja, Alison Peck and Vivian Wang, based on characters by David Horvath and Sun-min Kim
Directed by: Kelly Asbury
Starring: Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Pitbull, Gabriel Iglesias, Wanda Sykes, Leehom Wang and more
Guru’s grade: Two stars
Is an experience less pleasant when you forget it the moment you leave the theater?
That’s the question behind this weekend’s “UglyDolls,” a sweet little marketing tie-in with the narrative weight of tissue paper. It’s both an official backstory for the dolls, which are actual toys sold at various retailers, and a simplistic but charming little fable about being true to yourself. There’s a sprinkling of genuine cleverness, and one or two moments where you might even be moved. The soundtrack is extremely catchy.
And, unless you’re a small child clutching one of the Ugly Dolls in question, you will cease caring about all of it the second it happens.
The plot starts in Uglyville, where a bunch of mildly strange-looking dolls live cheerful lives straight out of the opening of various old-fashioned musicals. Moxy, a pink doll with odd teeth, dreams of being adopted by a special little girl. When she gets her friends to investigate where all the strange dolls come from, she accidentally changes the lives of everyone in Uglyville.
The plot has several clear nods to “Toy Story,” though in its heart it’s more like 2016’s “Trolls.” Both were shameless marketing tie-ins with a rainbow heart, though the Ugly Doll toys are far less ubiquitous than the Troll dolls were. In an odd way, though, “UglyDolls” feels more in service to the toys than “Trolls” did. It’s all too easy to see it as the full-length movie version of the cute story someone might print on the back of a toy’s box, an origin story designed to make you want to take the toy home and adopt it.
There’s a message as well, encouraging kids to find the beauty in their uniqueness rather than trying to hide it. It’s an important message, especially these days, but the delivery is only occasionally moving.
The cast consists entirely of musicians and comedians, the most memorable of which is Wanda Sykes as Wage. She gives what may be the best line in the movie, and her performance overall is engaging enough to almost make you genuinely interested in what’s happening. Janelle Monae’s musical delivery is responsible for the few moments of real emotional weight the movie manages.
Of course, they’re not alone. Nick Jonas is a surprisingly menacing villain; Pitbull and Ice T are both exactly like you’d think they would be; and everyone else is largely interchangeable. Not bad, by any means, but by the halfway point in the movie they all sort of blend together.
They hold up better in the soundtrack, which is just as catchy and toe-tapping as audiences might hope for. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of the songs show up on radio stations, but the whole thing is fun to listen to.
I’ll be surprised if you can remember the lyrics, though.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.